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The Art of Julian Bream
Mauro GIULIANI (1781-1829)
Guitar Concerto No. 1 in A Op. 30 for Guitar and Strings [23:14]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Guitar Concerto Op.67 [21:54]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1887-1959)
Five Preludes for Guitar: No. 1 in E Minor [4:19]; No. 2 in E Major [2:42]; No. 3 in A Minor [6:22]; No. 4 in E Minor [3:28]; No. 5 in D Major [3:44]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante defunte [6:46]
Julian Bream (guitar)
Melos Ensemble (Giuliani; Arnold)
rec. 1960 (Giuliani; Arnold); 1957, November 1960;
REGIS RRC1416 [72:42]

These are classic Julian Bream recordings taken from RCA originals.
 
The Giuliani concerto was performed by Giuliani himself on 3 April 1808 in the Redoutensaal in Vienna two years after moving there from his native Italy. It is a sunny, genial affair breathing the same air as the Rossini string sonatas. The main theme in the first movement (Allegro Maestoso) owes something to a passage from The Magic Flute (a striking similarity) and this is followed by an attractive Andantino Siciliano. The finale (Alla polacca) is a bubbly, tuneful romp. There are no hidden depths. It’s a sparkling little charmer full of whit and fun. RCA managed to capture something quite special here.
 
The Arnold concerto was commissioned by Bream and this was its debut recording. It is neo-classical in style and has one of those wonderful Arnold tunes in the opening Allegro that gets lodged in the brain. There are also some traces of Rodrigo to be heard. The lengthy (11:32) slow movement (Lento) was inspired by the jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and this is where the music is at its original best. The atmosphere is intensely introspective and nocturnal but, Arnold being Arnold, there is still an underlying sense of humour in the writing. I wonder if William Mathias knew this piece? The main theme of the blues movement of his Sinfonietta of 1966 sounds as if he did. The finale (Con brio) is the weakest movement, again bringing Rodrigo to mind. It’s all very playful and ends with a flourish but in all honesty it isn’t especially inspired when judged by the composer’s best work.
 
The RCA recording of the two concertos still sounds fresh, involving and generally clean. The Regis transfer is excellent and the performances, despite their age, have never been beaten. Although Bream is obviously the soloist he still comes over as being a member of the Melos Ensemble and the recording avoids the trap of bringing the guitar image too far forward.
 
Unfortunately the Villa-Lobos Preludes are very closely recorded and this means that the listener is bombarded by all those mechanical clunks and slides that ruin many a guitar recital. It may be realistic but I for one find the whole thing irritating and unsatisfactory. The actual guitar sound is good, the transfer is well managed and the performances show what a master Julian Bream was. His technique and musicianship are peerless.
 
The Ravel is the least successful transfer on the CD with a high level of background noise and an unpleasant unnatural sound. This could have been left off the compilation or replaced with something else from the soloist’s extensive back catalogue. The booklet notes talk at some length about Roussel’s Segovia for no apparent reason. The work doesn’t appear on the disc.
 
This Regis CD is well worth the outlay for the Giuliani and Arnold alone - both classic recordings. The Villa-Lobos Preludes are also excellent.

John Whitmore
 


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